Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita
- Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita
- Youki au chat
- signed Foujita, dated 1923 and in Japanese (lower right); signed Foujita, dated 1923 and signed, inscribed and dated in Japanese on the stretcher
- oil on canvas
Private Collection, France (by descent from the above; sale: Sotheby’s, London, 24th June 2003, lot 157)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Foujita had been taken at once with Lucie’s beauty: her snow-white complexion and sensuous curves. He re-named her ‘Youki’, meaning ‘snow’ in Japanese. She remembers: “I didn’t like my first name, Lucie. So Foujita’s first move was to ‘de-baptise’ me and rename me Youki; his second: to request I pose for a large nude painting’ (quoted in Marie-Claire Barnet, Eric Robertson & Nigel Saint (eds.), Robert Desnos, Bern, 2006, p. 203). Indeed it was precisely at this time, when Foujita introduced into his œuvre two of the elements for which he is today most celebrated: his mastery of the nude figure and his ‘fond blanc’, a specific white ground which he applied on canvases to give them a luminous quality. The latter technique was developed out of the artist’s desire to represent what he now considered the most beautiful of materials: human skin.
In 1924, the year after the present work was painted, Foujita’s former lover Fernande attacked Youki at a public exhibition of the artist’s work, enflamed by the jealousy awakened in her on seeing his new portraits. For it was in these paintings that Foujita first demonstrated a sensual quality in his portraiture which spoke both of passion and tenderness; the present work is one of the finest examples of this. Youki’s porcelain skin shimmers on the canvas, the tones blending harmoniously with those of the bed, her hair cascades down her bare shoulders while her deep brown eyes stare back at the viewer in a wistful gaze.
The present work also features another very important individual in the artist’s life and œuvre: his cat. Named ‘Mike’ (meaning ‘Tabby cat’ in Japanese), the cat of the painting was adopted by the artist shortly after his arrival in Paris after following him home one day and refusing to leave his doorstep until he was welcomed in. The presence of a cat would go on to be a mainstay of Foujita’s works: sometimes as companion to a figure, sometimes as the central subject itself. Foujita adored their individuality and recognised in them a certain indefinability and unpredictability which he also attributed to women: he is noted as saying that cats were given to men such that they could learn from them the mysterious ways of women.
This work has been requested for an exhibition of the artist's work, curated by Mme Sylvie Buisson, to be held in Paris in 2018 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death.